It’s essential to familiarize yourself with controlling a smoker’s temperature, as it can greatly affect the quality of the cook on your meat. However, we also know that it’s one of the most challenging things to do when smoking.

If this is your first time using a smoker or you’ve been trying to learn how to control temperatures for a long time, there are only four things to remember:

  • Know how to control your air vents
  • Try a dry run
  • Aim for a blue smoke
  • Get a temperature control system

These four things will help you greatly in controlling your smoker’s temperature. How? We’ll go into more details about these below.

How do smoker air vents work?

Smokers always come with air vents, and this is because they play a crucial role in stabilizing your smoker’s temperature. The most basic rule in air vents is that if you want to increase heat, you need to open them to add more oxygen. If it’s the other way around, you need to close them a bit to reduce oxygen intake.

close up grill with a temperature sensor

Below, we’ll go into more detail about how to control these air vents well:

Controlling your air vents

If you check your smoker, you would immediately see two air vents – one at the top and another at the bottom – these are the intake and the exhaust dampers.

  • The intake damper

The intake damper is located at the bottom of the chamber, usually near the charcoal or wood, and is where the oxygen comes in. Others call this the engine that drives the system. Closing the intake damper will likely result in the fire burning out while opening it all the way will cause the smoker to heat up.

Here’s a great way to use the intake damper:

Open the intake damper at the start, so you have fuel for your charcoal. Observe the burn rate of the charcoal. Once it starts burning faster, close the intake vent slightly, but not completely. You need to keep the temperature at 225-degrees Fahrenheit as much as possible.

  • The exhaust damper

On the other hand, the exhaust damper is the one at the top of your grill and is where the oxygen comes out. It mainly has two purposes:

  1. To allow combustion gases, heat, and smoke to escape
  2. To release oxygen

As much as you’d probably have to play with the intake damper to control temperature, you don’t have to do much with the exhaust damper. You should, however, keep it open all the way or partially to release combustion gases.

  • Don’t keep opening the smoker

Remember, the air vents are the only parts of the smoker that you should touch. Don’t keep on opening the smoker’s main door as it will have a tremendous effect on the temperature inside and can greatly affect the cook of your meat.

So, unless you have to add coal or check your meat’s internal temperature, never open the lid. It would be best if you get a timer so you know when to check the meat.

Whilst adjusting the intake damper, keep the following in-mind

  • Record how fast the temperature is rising

To properly control the temperature, monitoring is very important. Remember to take note or record how fast the smoker’s temperature is rising. Once you notice that it seems to be rising faster, take action immediately.

  • Is the temperature too hot?

Since you’re recording the temperature, you’ll be able to notice immediately if the temperature is going up too high. If this happens, close the intake damper but leave a slight opening to reduce the amount of oxygen going in. This will lower down the temperature inside.

  • Is the temperature not hot enough?

If the temperature is not enough, the first thing you should check is the firebox, especially if you’ve been smoking for hours. If there seems to be enough charcoal, gently stir it again, which will get the temperature back up. However, if it’s really low on charcoal, you’d need to add more fuel.

  • How the weather can affect the smoker’s temperature

Whether you have a high-quality or poorly-insulated smoker, weather can always affect the smoker’s temperature. If it’s windy, more air tends to get in, causing the temperature to rise higher. If it’s colder, you tend to lose more heat.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can only smoke meat when the weather is ideal. If it so happens that it’s so windy, place the smoker in a position where the wind won’t hit it. Or you can close the vents a little bit more so that air won’t get in easily.

Always do a dry run on a new smoker

Now, if you’ve just bought a smoker, it’s always best to test it out without the meat. So, what you’re going to do is take note of how fast the temperature rises. You will also be able to familiarize yourself with how the vents work, how quickly the temperature would go down if you close it this much, and how fast it would go up if you open it this much.

With a dry run, you’ll get to know how your smoker works and how you can reach your desired temperature better. You will get to practice better control, too, so you don’t experience temperature swings.

What to do if You See Thick, White Smoke?

Charcoal grill with smoke coming out

When smoking your meat, the temperature is not the only thing you should monitor. You should pay a lot of attention to the smoke that comes out of the exhaust as well. And if you see a thick, white smoke, that already means there’s something wrong as to how your wood is burning.

The number one reason you see a thick, white smoke is water, and you usually get this if you’re going to use water-logged wood. These woods generally produce cooler fire, which is releasing bad smoke. It’s also not healthy and doesn’t bring a lot of flavor to the meat. 

We don’t want thick, white smoke. Instead, you should…

Aim For Blue Smoke

Blue smoke is generally a sign that the wood is burning cleanly and at a good temperature. This is the type of smoke that gives the flavor of your food some boost.

So, the next time you get thick, white smoke, even if you’ve already used dried wood, just open the exhaust damper to release excess smoke inside. Open the intake damper to increase the flame to ensure that your fuel is combusting well. Once you get to your desired temperature or that blue smoke, adjust the vents again.

Get a smoker temperature control system

We’ve already mentioned the importance of monitoring the temperature of your smoker. And for that to be even more effective, a temperature control system is something you should have. They also help a lot in preventing flare-ups or wind.

Digital Thermometer BBQ

A temperature control system features a variable speed blower that helps supply smoke the amount of air they need to hit a specific temperature. There’s an internal probe that measures the air temperature and makes sure it stays at the temperature you’ve set.

With a controller, you can set and forget. You wouldn’t have to stand around your smoker, monitoring the temperature all day. Instead, you can also walk around and talk to friends.

To make things easier for you, you can even get a temperature control system with a WIFI connection, so you can always keep an eye on the smoker’s temperature even if you’re away. You’ll also be able to adjust temperatures right then and there.

Commonly Asked Questions

How do I keep my smoker at 225?

If you want more tender and juicier meat, keeping your smoker at 225 degrees Fahrenheit is essential. As already mentioned above, monitoring the temperature and knowing how to control the vents will help you a lot.

To start, fire up your charcoal. Open the intake damper wide to let a lot of oxygen in. Once the fire begins rising, gradually close it (but not completely closing it) until you’ve reached your desired temperature. While smoking, if the temperature starts going down, adjust the vents again or add more fuel.

Is a smoker hotter on top or bottom?

This might depend on the brand of the smoker you got.

Most smokers tend to be hotter at the bottom because that’s where the heating element is. So, the farther the rack is from the heating element, the cooler they are. If you’re comparing the front part vs the back part, the back part of the smoker will be hotter.

However, there are smokers where the lowest rack is the coldest, and the highest rack is the hottest. This is because the heat travels up the walls before going down to the center.

Perhaps the best way to go about this is to test your smoker yourself and know which part of your smoker is the hottest.

How do I keep my smoker going overnight?

Many factors can affect your smoker’s temperature, so leaving it unattended can be quite challenging. However, if you have no choice and you do need to leave it on overnight, it’s recommended to bring the cooking temperature down.

So, if the standard cooking temp for the meat you’re using is 250 degrees, you’re going to set the smoker to 200 degrees instead. However, make sure that the meat will be cooked even at the lower temperature range you’ve set.

Don’t also forget to fuel up the smoker so that it won’t burn out throughout the night. You might even need to fill up the hooper just to be sure. Dampers should be half-open, too, and make sure that there won’t be any wind that might interrupt the smoker’s performance.

How often do you add charcoal to a smoker?

This depends on the temperature of the smoker and how fast your charcoal burns. If it’s your first time using a smoker, there will be an adjustment period as you’d still need to familiarize yourself with how your smoker works.

Most people just check their fuel once every 2 hours to see if they’re running out. If you have a big hopper capacity and it’s full, then the smoker can probably last for even up to 8 hours without refueling.


Controlling the temperature of your smoker is crucial if you want to achieve that perfectly cooked meat. So, if you’re a beginner in smoking, remember these three things:

  • Learn how to control the air vents
  • Aim for a blue smoke
  • Buy a temperature control system

With these three in mind, surely you’ll be able to master regulating smoker temperatures in no time. It takes lots of time and patience, so don’t be frustrated if you can’t familiarize yourself with it on your first try.